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5 Amazing Catholic sites not to miss in New Mexico

5 Amazing Catholic sites in New Mexico

Claudio Divizia | Shutterstock | Shiny Things | John Fowler | Wikipedia | Collage by Aleteia

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 04/27/24

Are you heading to the state known as “The Land of Enchantment”? Don’t miss these beautiful and significant Catholic sites!

When it comes to the history of the Catholic Church in the United States, some states have a much longer tradition than others. 

In some states, the Catholic presence is less than 200 years old. But in other states, like Maryland, Florida, and California, Catholics have been present since the 1600s or even the 1500s. 

One of these states with a long and robust Catholic history is New Mexico:

The Catholic Church is deeply involved in the history of New Mexico. Fray Marcos de Niza, a Franciscan, first saw the land we now call New Mexico in 1539.

New Mexico’s Catholic history had ups and downs over these nearly five centuries, its pages filled with events like the Pueblo Indian Revolt in 1680 and the leadership of Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy, the first Archbishop of Santa Fe, in the mid-1800s. If his name sounds familiar, that’s because he is the subject of Willa Cather’s enduringly popular novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop.

Today some 34% of New Mexico residents are Catholic, close to 720,000 people. The state’s largest diocese, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, covers an area of 61,142 square miles and has 93 parish seats and 226 active missions.

Are you heading to New Mexico, or do you call the state known as “The Land of Enchantment” home? Don’t miss these five beautiful and significant Catholic sites!

1
Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe

This chapel is internationally famous for its “miraculous staircase.” You can read more of its history at the chapel website and in this article:

The staircase of Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico is shrouded in myth and legend. Some pious local traditions claim the identity of its builder and the physics of its structure are miraculous. The fact that the structure stands on its feet without any kind of central support attached to it has been considered, by many, as almost miraculous. Others offer more prosaic explanations for the staircase’s existence, but regardless of its origin, the chapel makes for a must-see destination.

El Santuario de Chimayo - New Mexico
El Santuario de Chimayo in New Mexico

2
El Santuario de Chimayo, Chimayo

Considered one of the most important Catholic pilgrimage sites in the United States, El Santuario is known as “the Lourdes of America.” El Santuario attracts over 300,000 pilgrims from all over the Southwest and elsewhere each year. Thousands of pilgrims walk to El Santuario from Santa Fe and other starting points during Holy Week.

One of the most beautiful examples of Spanish Colonial architecture in New Mexico, El Santuario de Chimayo is known for miraculous healings. You can read more about its history here. It is an official National Historic Landmark and is included in the National Register of Historic Places. 

3
The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

In 1850, Santa Fe received its first bishop, Father John Baptiste Lamy of France. Judging the 1714 old adobe church as inadequate for the seat of the Archdiocese, Bishop Lamy ordered a new Romanesque church built, and brought French architects and Italian stonemasons to build his cathedral.

Today we know it as The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. A fictionalized account of the cathedral’s origins is included in Death Comes for the Archbishop. The Cathedral was elevated to a Basilica by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, and you can read more about its history here.

4
San Miguel Chapel, Santa Fe

This special site is the location of the first Mass not only in New Mexico, but in the American continent. San Miguel Chapel is known in Santa Fe simply as “The Oldest Church” and is referenced in Wikipedia as the oldest church in the continental United States. 

The chapel is located in the Barrio de Analco, a national historic district of Santa Fe. The present building dates from 1710, although it has undergone significant structural changes.

Chapel Christ in the Desert Monastery Chama River Valley New Mexico
Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Chama River Valley, New Mexico

5
Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Abiquiú

This oasis of peace in the midst of the wild New Mexican desert is sure to call the mind to God. The Benedictine Monastery of Christ in the Desert is located in the strikingly beautiful Chama Canyon wilderness in northwestern New Mexico, about 75 miles north of Santa Fe, and 13 miles down a dirt and gravel road. The road there is surrounded by remarkable formations, cliffs, tree-covered mountains and the Chama River winding its way through the midst of the valley. 

Set at the bottom of red rock cliffs, the monastery is a striking sight. It is surrounded by miles of government-protected wilderness, assuring and promoting solitude and quiet for the monastic life. With solar power providing energy for electricity and water, the monastery is quite committed to sustainable stewardship in its daily operations. 

Guests can visit for the day or stay overnight at the monks’ guesthouse and are welcome to join in the monks’ daily schedule of devotions. Personally, if I were in New Mexico, I would be very drawn to traveling to this remote and captivating place for a retreat!

San Francisco de Asis Mission Church - New Mexico
San Francisco de Asis Mission Church in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico

BONUS SITE
San Francisco de Asís Mission Church

Artist Georgia O’Keeffe once described the majestic San Francisco de Asís Mission Church as “one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards.” Indeed, its beauty has inspired artists for centuries, with visitors to the site including Georgia O’Keeffe, Ansel Adams and Paul Strand among many others. Today the church is a National Historic Landmark.

San Francisco de Asís Mission Church remains an important center of community life, and the citizens of Ranchos de Taos ensure it stays in good condition. Every year in June, citizens of Ranchos de Taos, parish members, and visitors gather for a week to re-mud the exterior of the adobe church with a mixture of mud and straw, preserving the structure for future generations.

Tags:
Catholic historyHistoryTravelUnited States
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